California cities are in the midst of a significant transition in how their councilmembers are elected. In November 2018 alone, 57 California cities made the switch from at-large to district elections, with councilmembers chosen by geographical area. Dozens more are in the midst of changing or beginning to explore the idea.
The change to election-by-districts does not change the council-manager form of government or the fact that each councilmember gets one vote. It still requires a majority of the council to make policy. But, it can create some confusion and differing expectations by members of the public about what councilmembers should be doing in “their” districts. City councils will be well-served by deciding how they want to govern, how they want to represent all of their community members, and what principles will guide their decisions upon moving to district elections.
The reasons for the transition and the potential pros and cons are worthy topics for discussion. However, this article seeks to explain what city officials– both elected and professional staff–can do to prepare for such a transition and promote good government principles and practices. Here are five ideas: